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Boy Parts by Eliza Clark - Review

Monday, December 21, 2020

My friend started an informal book club the other month, and I suggested Grown for our first book, so we read that in November and chatted about it then. Another member, my friend Lori, suggested Boy Part for our December book, because she had just read it, so we all said yes. It was just 99p on Kindle so I got it on there.

I started reading this and immediately knew it was something my friend Laura would like, so I encouraged her to buy it and join the book group. She loved the book too, so I'm looking forward to seeing what she thinks of it at the book club at the end of December. I also messaged my friend Paul, who's an artist in Gateshead, to see if he'd read it and it turns out he had, so that pleased me a lot. 

So, the book is about an artist in Newcastle (which is why I thought Paul would like to read it) called Irina. At the beginning of the book she's working in a bar while also selling her erotic photography. She takes photos of men that she scouts on the streets in erotic and sometimes fetishistic poses,turning a female gaze on a part of art that is usually a male gaze on women, not the other way round. She doesn't just choose pretty men, but all kinds of different men. She has a type, but she's learnt not to sleep with her subjects. Hasn't she?

She's attacked at work and is given a six week sabbatical, and at the same time she is contacted about an exhibition in Hackney that the curator wants her to exhibit in. Irina starts going back over her past catalogue. The book is somewhat of a memoir in that way, because Irina is now 28 but the reader learns about her life and her art from the age of fifteen upwards. 

Irina has two friends - Flo and Finch. She and Flo had a brief relationship after uni, and Flo's boyfriend Michael and Irina don't get on. Finch is one of a younger cohort of students that "love" Irina and her work. Finch is desperate to get Irina's feedback on his work, but Irina just keeps not getting round to it. Flo tells Irina about a man she might like at the local Tesco, and indeed the two start a friendship/relationship. 

Irina has mental health problems, that much is clear. She self harms, she's anorexic and bulimic. She drinks too much and does a lot of drugs. She is the most unreliable narrator I think I've ever read. There's lots of things in the book that I'm not sure whether they were real or not. I'll be interested to see what the rest of the book club thinks, because I could have gone either way on a lot of things. I didn't dislike her, but I didn't like her either. I felt sympathy for her, but also wanted to give her a shake. There was a lot to understand about her, like her cold relationship with her mum and how she was groomed as a teen, but I equally didn't like her much. 

I like books about art and music because it's hard to portray mediums that use sight or hearing in words, and I think this book did it brilliantly. I could picture each of Irina's pictures perfectly. I liked her art, but there was a non-consensual nature to a lot of it. 

Which brings me on to trigger warnings. There's lots. There's all the mental health stuff above, plus drug and alcohol use, rape, sexual assault, grooming, and more. It's a hard book to read, but so worth it. I really liked the style of the writing, too. I liked reading about a lass from Newcastle trying to make it in a world that is focussed very much on London, and middle class artists. I'll definitely read something by the same author. I'm giving this five out of five and highly recommend it. 

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